How long does it take to get divorced in Texas? It depends.
Let’s start with a brief discussion of Texas law. In short, a Texas court can grant a divorce but only after it has been on file for at least 60 days. What does “on file” mean? Essentially, when a party files for divorce in Texas, the divorce petition will be stamped with something called a “file stamp” (usually located at the top right of the page in bold letters) of which will display the date that the case was filed with the Court. This is the date that the Court will use to calculate the 60-day period.
Nonetheless, most divorces—though they may end in settlement—are not fully concluded in 60-days. In fact, according to one of Walters Gilbreath, PLLC’s senior associate attorneys, he often gets the same question from his clients at some point.
“How long will my case take?”
In this article, we will strive to answer that question. We’ll be candid, there is not an exact or certain answer to that question. However, with consideration of some key factors, you will be able to at least provide yourself with an estimate regarding the length of time your case will take. The truth is that the length of your case depends on you and the other party. How much can you and the other party agree on without intervention from a Court? How easy or difficult will it be to serve the other party?
Phase One – Filing & Service
This is the first step in any Texas civil lawsuit. After a petition is drafted whether that be to modify custody or to get divorced, to name a couple of examples, the Petitioner (i.e. the first person to file) will have to serve the other party with the lawsuit. If the Petitioner has also set a hearing in the case, the hearing date must first be obtained then notice of that date must be properly served as well. On its face, service seems pretty straight forward. However, if we take a closer look we will find that this is not always the case.
Waiver of Service – When you and the other party can agree that there is no need for him or her to be served by a sheriff or private process server, one party will sign a document called a “waiver of service”. This document must be sworn to (i.e. by use of a notary or declaration) and signed by the party receiving service (i.e. the Respondent). After this document is signed, the document is then filed with the Court. This is by far the quickest method when starting your case.
TOTAL TIME ESTIMATED FOR A WAIVER OF SERVICE: 1 TO 3 DAYS
Regular Service – This is the most common type of service pursued. Regular service is when a private process server or sheriff will use an address (or addresses) provided in the petition and serve the other party with the documents in person. This method could take between 5-14 days as an estimate due to the steps that must be taken before the process server or sheriff even comes into possession of the documents to serve.
Step 1: The document(s) are filed with the Court. This will include the petition, any notice of hearing, as well as any ;
Step 2: The civil intake department at the Court is then notified of the filing (between 1 and 2 business days) and then will begin to process it. The clerks in this department will then create another document called a citation and/or precept to attach to your petition, notice of hearing, motion, etc. A citation is a document which will tell the Respondent that they have been sued (with divorce, for custody, for enforcement of a prior Court order, etc.) while a precept will notify the responding party of a hearing date for which he or she is Ordered or notified to appear.
Step 3: If a sheriff is selected to execute service (this method is rarely used by our firm), he or she will only attempt to serve the respondent once or twice. However, if a private process server is used instead (our firm’s preference), you will be able to have more control over how service is executed. We ask our clients to provide us with helpful information to assist with serving their ex such as:
- A recent photo of the Respondent;
- The color, year, make and model of the Respondent’s vehicle(s);
- The address where the Respondent is most likely to be found;
- The time(s) that the Respondent is most likely to be located; and
- Whether or not the Respondent is expecting or is aware of the pending lawsuit filed against them.
With this information, our private process servers will then attempt to serve the other party. This process (depending on if rush service was paid for or not) will typically take another 2-10 business days.
TOTAL TIME ESTIMATED FOR REGULAR SERVICE (PHASE ONE): 2 TO 4 WEEKS
Alternative Service – This type of service progressively takes more time than regular service, and understandably longer than simply obtaining a waiver of service. Alternative service is when regular service has been diligently attempted by a sheriff and/or process server but he or she was unable to serve the other party within a reasonable amount of time. The Courts in Texas will typically require that regular service is attempted on at least 6 to 8 different independent and reasonable occasions. In order for Alternative Service to be granted, a formal request or motion must be filed with the Court and the Judge must sign an order approving it. This process alone (getting an order signed) could take up to 7 to 10 business days (if a hearing is unnecessary).
So what is alternative service? It essentially means that the process server gets permission to serve the Respondent by other means instead of locating and serving them in person such as posting the documents on their door. Our firm deals with obtaining approval from the Court to do alternative service often in highly litigated cases where the other party purposefully avoids service. Obtaining alternative service can be a hassle and it is wise to hire an attorney with experience with doing so. Otherwise, you may be bombarded with the only option of serving the respondent personally (you’ve got about ninety days to do so before having to begin the entire process from the start) and being unsuccessful in doing so.
Remember, the ball won’t get rolling until the other party files their answer or response to the lawsuit.
TOTAL TIME ESTIMATED FOR ALTERNATIVE SERVICE TO BE EFFECTUATED: 1 TO 3 WEEKS FROM THE LAST ATTEMPT OF REGULAR SERVICE
International Service – This is by far the most time-consuming form of serving the other party. International service occurs when the other party lives in another country. When this is the case, there are many complex steps to be taken in order to get the other party served.
TOTAL TIME ESTIMATED FOR INTERNATIONAL SERVICE : 3 TO 6 MONTHS FROM THE DATE OF SERVICE (DEPENDING ON THE COUNTRY)
Phase Two: Wait for an Answer to Be Filed & Served
Phase two is more of a waiting game. Under Texas law, an answer to the lawsuit must be filed and served on the Petitioner by 10:00 a.m. on the first Monday after 20 days have elapsed from the date of service of the original (i.e. the Petitioner’s) petition. This is a strangely worded rule under Texas law but to give you a better perspective, the Respondent will have about 30 days to respond to the initial lawsuit. They will do so by serving their written answer on your existing attorney. Obviously, many respondents do not wait until this deadline but instead may file a response shortly after being served. After an answer is filed, your case has officially begun and will jump into the next phase of the case.
TOTAL TIME ESTIMATED FOR PHASE TWO: UP TO APPROXIMATELY 30 DAYS
Phase Three: Mediation and/or Negotiation for Temporary Orders
Phase Three is all about negotiating the terms for your temporary orders. The length of this stage depends mainly on scheduling and the cooperativeness of the spouses. This is also a phase that gives the parties complete control over the terms of their binding temporary orders, should they agree to those terms.
First, the spouses will typically select a mediator with availability and experience to mediate the case. In this stage, the spouses will likely attempt to settle as many issues in the case as possible (prior to having a hearing on the issue). This process will take some time even after a mediator has been chosen by the parties as the availability and schedules of several people must be considered. Let’s take a moment to count the number of people typically involved in mediating. First, there’s the mediator’s schedule to consider. Yours, your attorney’s. Then there is your ex. Your ex’s attorney. That’s Five schedules. You’ll have to factor this into the amount of time necessary to schedule mediation.
In some instances, this occurs between the spouses and without the help of a mediator. However, most of the time the spouses will attend mediation and either come to an agreement regarding some or all of the issues for temporary orders or they will not agree on any issue at all. Then, if the spouses fail to agree on all issues in mediation, the issues remaining must be argued in front of a judge (i.e. at the temporary orders hearing).
Brian Walters says that “the temporary orders hearing is like a mini-trial.” The length of this stage largely depends on you and your spouse.
TOTAL TIME ESTIMATED FOR PHASE THREE: 2 TO 4 WEEKS AFTER THE DATE OF SERVICE OF THE ANSWER OR AT LEAST BEFORE A HEARING FOR TEMPORARY ORDERS CAN BE HELD
Phase Four: Temporary Orders
Let’s imagine that you and your spouse attended mediation. You both tried to come to an agreement but were unable to do so. Therefore, you must attend a hearing. The Court will make a decision as to what the temporary orders are. In other words, the Court will decide how the couple will function until the case has concluded. The Court will decide things such as who will live in the marital home, who the children will live with, which parent has the right to decide on the children’s school, which party will pay any temporary spousal and/or child support while the case is pending.
This phase largely depends on the cooperation of the parties and when final trial is set in the case. Whether the parties have attended mediation and come to an agreement or if instead after the hearing on temporary orders, a Court made those decisions, the parties will operate under those temporary orders until final trial. To give you an idea, the Court will typically set your case for trial approximately 90 days out from the date that the first petition/pleading was filed in the case. This is not even considering the possibility that your trial will get reset by the Court or if your trial date gets moved because the other party requested a continuance and it was granted. With this in mind, most parties will operate under temporary orders for a period of 3 to 6 months on average. Since the temporary orders must be followed until they are replaced by final orders, if the parties are able to agree on the final terms of their case prior to trial, the temporary orders will immediately terminate upon signing the final order.
TOTAL TIME ESTIMATED FOR PHASE FOUR – 3 TO 6 MONTHS
Phase Five: Mediation for Final Orders
First, it is important to note that you will face the same obstacles in this phase as in Phase Three: Mediation for Temporary Orders (above) when it comes to choosing a mediator and a date and time that works with all parties’ schedules. However, a key difference is that in this phase the parties are currently operating under temporary orders and at this point, the trial is typically set for some date in the future. As required by most Courts in Texas, the parties will be expected to attend mediation with each other. Since a vast majority of all cases settle in Texas prior to going to trial, it is understandable that the Court would like to encourage parties to attempt to resolve the issues in their case themselves. Most of the time, they can. In mediation for final orders, there is a notable uniqueness: at this point, the parties have usually been operating under their existing temporary orders for a couple of months at least. If both parties have complied with those orders, there should be little drama left even if issues still remain to be litigated. The goal for mediation for final orders is to typically seek to do either of the following:
1. Keep all terms of the existing temporary orders and convert them into final orders;
2. Keep some of the terms of the existing temporary orders and change other terms for final orders; or
3. Change most or all of the existing temporary orders for final orders (this is the most uncommon).
TOTAL TIME ESTIMATED FOR PHASE FIVE – 2 TO 4 WEEKS
Phase Six: Final Trial (Jury or Non-Jury)
So now we have made it to the final phase of a family law case in Texas: final trial. We could ramble all day about this phase, but we won’t. Final trial is a phase of which our firm has a passion for. Final trial is a hearing set in your case that is held on a date certain and the Court makes final decisions regarding all of the remaining issues in the case. The trial itself will typically last for one to two days. After the Court hears the evidence and makes a ruling, one of the parties’ attorneys will draft the final order pursuant to the Court’s rulings along with any property transfer documents. After the Final Order has been drafted, agreed to, and signed by all parties, the Order will be submitted to the Court for approval. (As long as the Final Order is aligned with the ruling of the Court, the Judge will sign it). After the Final Order is signed by the Court, you are officially done with your case (i.e. divorced).
TOTAL TIME ESTIMATED FOR PHASE SIX: 1 TO 2 WEEKS